Having reclaimed most of the territory once held by Islamic State (IS), the Iraqi government has before it the daunting prospect of jailing and punishing the jihadists who terrorized its people; many Iraqis, moreover, are understandably eager to see evidence of retribution. But Baghdad’s security forces, working in cooperation with Iran-backed militias, are in many cases simply rounding up Sunni Muslims for imprisonment and execution. In other cases, the militias have massacred civilians and raped women whose only crime was living under IS rule. Ben Taub writes:
Not long ago, I met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official who is deeply involved in counterterrorism operations. For three hours, over tea and cigarettes, he described systematic criminality within the security forces, detailing patterns of battlefield executions, murders in detention centers, and coverups organized by the state. . . .
He believes that the Iraqi government’s response is as much a tactical blunder as it is a moral one; it plays directly into the jihadists’ narrative—namely, that Sunnis, who make up a minority of the Iraqi population, cannot live safely under a government dominated by Shiites. “The reaction is one of vengeance—it is not well thought out,” he told me. “We rarely abide by the law.” Thousands of men and boys have been convicted of IS affiliation, and hundreds have been hanged. And . . . these cases represent only a small fraction of the total number of detainees, [most of whom have not had even pro-forma trials]. . . .
The ground campaign to take back Mosul [from IS] began in earnest in the fall of 2016. Until then, Iraq’s factions and militias had little incentive to cooperate [with each other]. Shiite paramilitary groups, some of which had carried out thousands of attacks against American troops in the previous decade, had mobilized to prevent IS from capturing Baghdad, but it was another two years before the Iraqi government integrated them into the armed forces. It was a Faustian bargain; the most powerful militias, which are collectively known as the Hashd al-Shaabi, are trained, equipped, and funded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and have a reputation for carrying out the kinds of sectarian abuses that had led many Sunnis to welcome the jihadists in Mosul. . . .
[In the] Nineveh province, civilians who had fled IS at the outset, in 2014, were asked by Kurdish and Iraqi intelligence officers to inform on neighbors who had assisted it. The names were then entered into databases of terrorism suspects, available to Iraqi security branches, including the Hashd militias. As the war dragged on, the lists became increasingly unreliable. People reported their enemies, and wielded the threat of denunciation in personal, tribal, and workplace disputes. . . . [S]ome Hashd fighters ran an extortion racket, demanding thousands of dollars from civilians and adding their names to the terrorism database if they couldn’t pay.